The number was suddenly right there in the room for everyone to see: €10 million ($11.8 million) — €10 million for genocide.
News agencies published the number after it was first reported in the country's largest daily newspaper The Namibian, quoting a spokesperson for President Hage Geingob, who in turn had heard it during an address by the president's predecessor back in June. The spokesperson called Germany's reparations offer for crimes in its former colony "unacceptable," adding that the figure was "an insult to Namibia."
And it's true: The figure is so shameful and ridiculously low that it in no way resembles a serious offer of reparations. €10 million can in no way be the result of five years of interrupted negotiations following the mass murder of the Herero and Nama people exactly 116 years ago after the battle of Waterberg, which was to become the first genocide of the 20th century.
Although the death toll and other details of the genocide vary depending on who may be trying to turn them to their favor, one thing remains clear and cannot be glossed over. And that is that negotiations must be concluded and that an official German apology is long overdue.
'I don't know where this figure came from'
Back in 2015, the German negotiator, CDU politician Ruprecht Polenz, said he saw the possibility of concluding talks by the end of the legislative session, in 2017. There's now speculation that a deal won't be reached until 2021. Since both parties agreed not to disclose the negotiations, the €10 million figure has remained unchallenged for months. In an interview with DW, Polenz refused to say more than that he had no idea where the €10 million figure came from.
But according to well-informed sources, the estimated sum will be much higher. It is expected to be earmarked for health, education and infrastructure projects, and if possible, in regions especially hard hit by the genocide.
Only following this would there be an official request for an apology, made directly by the German president in person, which would then be followed by Namibian officials accepting his apology.
Namibians are weighing the seriousness of Germany's intent as well as the results of negotiations — that's to say the concrete offer put on the table. That Namibia is the largest recipient of development aid in Africa and has received more than €1 billion in aid since independence in 1990, doesn't enter into this equation.
Better explanation needed from Germany
Germany needs to do a much better job of explaining itself, and Namibia's president, Hage Geingob, will be using this fact to his political advantage in the meantime.
Berlin so far has been reluctant to use the word "reparations" in discussing the issue, choosing instead to speak in more flowery terms of "healing the wounds in their shared past," a strategy which only enrages Namibia, as it continues to push for material damages of far more than €10 million.
In the end the sum will be higher. And Germany's government negotiators in Namibia are very aware of this.